The College Cost Dilemma

It was not your average police-blotter item: Last week, federal marshals arrested four people in Minnesota who had defaulted on student loans. They weren't charged, but they were put behind bars until they turned over financial information to the Federal District Court in Minneapolis so officials could see what monies might be available to pay back their debt.

The operation's name: Anaconda Squeeze.

Some $25 billion in student loans stand in default. And the high cost of college is forcing some students to draw on high-interest credit cards, and seek expensive private loans.

But before more Anaconda-like operations are carried out, Congress ought to take a close look at raising the ceiling on how much a student can borrow in low-cost government loans, something it hasn't done for a decade.

Indeed, skyrocketing college costs should have signaled that need to legislators long ago.

A recent comprehensive study by the National Center for Public Policy and Higher Education indicates tuition and fees rose in every state last year - a well-established trend.

Massachusetts topped the list with a 24 percent average increase in tuition - from $3,295 to $4,075 at its public higher ed institutions.

Moreover, 16 states increased tuition by more than 10 percent; 17 dropped the level of financial aid they make available to students. Facing deficits, state legislators are also looking to cut their higher education budgets. Appropriations for higher education dropped in 14 states last year.

Given demographics and rising costs, the financial squeeze is unlikely to go away. Experts predict the largest high school graduating class in the nation's history in 2009. It's past time for Washington to address the pressing tensions created by high tuition costs, and insufficient federal aid.

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